I JOHN, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last…
And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore.
Revelation 1:9-11, 17-18
An icon of St John the Apostle and Theologian. “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian” (Evagrius the Solitary).
Today is the Feast of the Falling Asleep of St John the Apostle and Theologian, author of the Gospel and Letters which bear his name, and also of the Revelation or Apocalypse.
“Theologian” does not mean “scholar who studies Christian history, beliefs and ethics”. As Evagrius the Solitary (“On Prayer” §61) wrote:
IF you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.
NO man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
1 John 4:12-13
WHEN the intellect practices the virtues correctly, it advances in moral understanding.
When it practices contemplation, it advances in spiritual knowledge.
The first leads the spiritual contestant to discriminate between virtue and vice; the second leads the participant to the inner qualities of incorporeal and corporeal things.
Finally, the intellect is granted the grace of theology when, carried on wings of love beyond these two former stages, it is taken up into God and with the help of the Holy Spirit discerns – as far as this is possible for the human intellect – the qualities of God.
IF you are about to enter the realm of theology, do not seek to descry God’s inmost nature, for neither the human intellect nor that of any other being under God can experience this; but try to discern, as far as possible, the qualities that appertain to His nature – qualities of eternity, infinity, indeterminateness, goodness, wisdom, and the power of creating, preserving and judging creatures, and so on.
For he who discovers these qualities, to however small an extent, is a great theologian.
Maximus the Confessor, “Second Century on Love”, §26, 27.
“He whose mind has outstripped the very being of created things has come, as a true theologian, close to the One through unknowing.” (St Maximus the Confessor, +662.) The photo is of an Orthodox hermit, a theologian.
LOVE not the world, neither the things that are in the world.
If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
1 John 2:15-17
HE who is not affected by changes in sensible things practices the virtues in a manner that is truly pure.
He who does not permit the outward appearances of sensible things to imprint themselves on his intellect has received the true doctrine of created beings.
He whose mind has outstripped the very being of created things has come, as a true theologian, close to the One through unknowing.
Maximus the Confessor, “First Century on Theology”, §93.
O HEAVENLY King, the Comforter, Spirit of Truth
Which art everywhere present, and fillest all things,
the treasury of blessings, supplier of Life:
Come, and make thy dwelling in us,
And cleanse us from every blemish:
And save our souls, O Good One.
I HAVE yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
DO not try to embark on the higher forms of contemplation before you have achieved complete dispassion, and do not pursue what lies as yet beyond your reach. If your wish is to become a theologian and a contemplative, ascend by the path of ascetic practice and through self-purification acquire what is pure.
Do not pursue theology beyond the limits of your present state of development:it is wrong for us who are still drinking the milk of the virtues to attempt to soar to the heights of theology, and if we do so we will flounder like fledglings, however great the longing roused within us by the honey of spiritual knowledge.
But, once purified by self-restraint and tears, we will be lifted up from the earth like Elijah or Habakkuk (cf. 2Kgs 2:11; Bel and Dr., verses 36-39), anticipating the moment when we will be caught up into the clouds (cf. 1 Thess 4:17); and transported beyond the world of the senses by undistracted prayer, pure and contemplative, we may then in our search for God touch the fringe of theology.
St Theognostos, “On the Practice of the Virtues” §6.
The divine “thirsts to be thirsted for, longs to be longed for, and loves to be loved.” A detail from an icon of the return of the prodigal son.
GOD is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. … We love him, because he first loved us.
1 John 4:16, 19
THEOLOGIANS call the divine sometimes an erotic force, sometimes love, sometimes that which is intensely longed for and loved.
Consequently, as an erotic force and as love, the divine itself is subject to movement; and as that which is intensely longed for and loved it moves towards itself everything that is receptive of this force and love.
To express this more clearly; the divine itself is subject to movement since it produces an inward state of intense longing and love in those receptive to them; and it moves others since by nature it attracts the desire of those who are drawn towards it.
In other words, it moves others and itself moves since it thirsts to be thirsted for, longs to be longed for, and loves to be loved.
Maximus the Confessor, “Fifth Century on Theology”, §84.